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Nicolais: The ad attacking Brianna Titone is an ugly miscalculation

Focusing on the gender of Colorado’s first transgender legislator is both bad politics and dumb

A recent video attacking Rep. Brianna Titone simply crosses a line. Not for being too hard hitting or too tough, but for being plain stupid.

The video employed many of the usual attack ad tactics. Grainy black-and-white picture of Titone on one side. Dark, blurry images flashing on the other. A narrator with dire warnings.

It is the subject matter, though, that makes this an awful production. It is nothing more than an ugly attack on Titone’s gender identity. She is Colorado’s first transgender legislator.

Nominally entitled “History of Violence,” the video begins by claiming Titone “has always supported violence.” But before it can even reach its flimsy evidence for that claim, the narrator jumps into the real point it wants to make.

Mario Nicolais

An otherwise unnecessary clause follows – “when Brianna was known as Brian” – and clearly makes her gender the real attack vector. 

The audio real estate within 30-second commercials is extremely limited. Consequently, every word must have a distinct purpose. Using four of the first eight seconds on that phrase was no accident. It represents an intentional choice to make her gender the issue.

The video doubles down on this position by highlighting a video Titone re-tweeted from Elle Magazine. The fashion magazine created an uplifting piece on a young boy who likes to dress in drag and his supportive family and friends.

Social media trolls responded to the Elle post with caustic messages. The attack on Titone channeled that toxicity and claimed she was “sexualizing children.” It is the kind of message targeted at keyboard cowboys and basement-dwelling incels who likely were not supporting a strong, confident woman like Titone in the first place.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

In a half-assed attempt to disguise the ad as something other than an attack on gender, the video also includes an out-of-context and obviously non-literal Twitter reply from Titone: “We should at least be given the right to punch someone in the face for doing that.”

Honestly, every donor to Take Back Colorado, the independent expenditure committee that ran this video, should want to form a line and punch in the face the brain trust who ran the commercial.

I could not imagine having my name or company attached to something so despicable.

To be clear, I have no problem with negative ads. They are produced and aired because they work. I recently wrote a column that extolled the brilliance of 2004’s Swiftboat Veterans for Truth commercials and lambasted Sen. Cory Gardner for being too cute with his attacks on former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But the Titone hit job is so incompetent that it’s likely to backfire dramatically. I am tempted to say it will cause more harm than good, but I literally cannot think of any good that could come from putting such a piece into the world. 

Created by Rearden Strategic, a shady company with a history of losing campaigns and run by the brother of Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, the video will not win over any voters. Instead, it will deepen divides and misconceptions about gender.

To an increasingly tolerant and accepting majority in Colorado, it reaffirms their move away from the Republican Party. 

Currently the state GOP is wallowing in historically small minorities at the state Capitol. Videos like the one against Titone will only shrink it to irrelevancy. That is why Neville nearly lost his leadership position in 2018 and just Friday announced he would not seek reelection to the post. 

Maybe the video should be re-named “History of Violence Against Republican Electoral Hopes.”

But here is the kicker.

Titone is both a courageous and effective legislator. She has had such ugly attacks leveled at her in the past. Yet she has remained confident in herself and her work. And the voters in her JeffCo district have remained confident in her. On Nov. 3, they will make that confidence in her clear.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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